Women overseas are reaching new heights professionally. Here's what we can learn from our emerging market counterpart.
The mention of women in emerging economies often evokes a picture of oppressed and poverty-stricken victims, relegated to the sidelines of male-dominated cultures. That’s the usual narrative, exemplified by the best-selling Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn. Yes, these problems are real and of critical importance. But educated women in Brazil, Russia, India and China — the BRIC economies which represent the four largest emerging markets — and the United Arab Emirates, are telling a different tale: one of agency and power.
Just as in the U.S. — where female college graduates now outnumber men — BRIC women are flooding into universities and graduate schools. They represent 65% of college graduates in the UAE, 60% in Brazil and 57% in Russia. These figures represent more than just a tiny elite: Between 15 and 25% of young women in the BRICs/UAE are now college-educated — a substantial number. And they’re not just earning degrees: They are bursting with the desire to use them.
Highly educated women the world over are ambitious, but ambition and aspiration among BRIC/UAE women is off the charts. New data from the Center for Work-Life Policy show that 85% of female college graduates in India and 92% in the UAE consider themselves very ambitious, compared to a paltry 36% in the U.S. In India, 86% of college-educated women are shooting for the top job, closely followed by their counterparts in Brazil (80%) and China (76%).
And turbo-charged ambition is paying off. In Brazil, 14% of the CEOs of large companies are female; in India, the figure is 11%. Meanwhile, the number of women who head up Fortune 500 corporations in the United States and FTSE 100 firms in the United Kingdom is stuck at less than 5%. What’s behind these startling numbers? Our study — which is based on rich, new data — describes opportunities and obstacles, which are surprisingly different from those in the West. ...